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Building Brands with Integrity: A Conversation with DEI Pioneer Vernā Myers

Building Brands with Integrity: A Conversation with DEI Pioneer Vernā Myers
Building Brands with Integrity: A Conversation with DEI Pioneer Vernā Myers

The field of diversity, equity, and inclusion has many respected practitioners. But my guest this week is the OG (in both impact and brand), and someone I’ve admired for a long time. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have her on the podcast!

Vernā Myers is a renowned diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) pioneer with profound perspectives on the challenges and opportunities present in the field. She’s had several pivotal points in her career that highlight the significant impact of the work she’s done. In reflecting on the current global climate, Vernā emphasizes the need for imagination, courage, curiosity, and compassion in driving meaningful organizational change and a more inclusive world.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll hear about Vernā’s insights about personal branding, the evolution of DEI through her journey, and the need to embrace inclusion in all aspects of work and life. You’ll also discover the importance of perspective in this work when facing obstacles, and so much more.

1:47 – Vernā’s personal brand definition, the real trick to creating a brand, and her three-word description of herself

4:44 – An amendment to Vernā’s trademark quote and why Jill Scott’s “Golden” is her hype song

9:08 – How Vernā’s childhood (including MLK’s assassination when she was 8) and education shaped her journey

13:32 – How Vernā went from practicing law to practicing DEI and what she attributes to her success

21:29 – Some of the pivotal points in Vernā’s career in the process of becoming a DEI pioneer

30:05 – The backlash against diversity, equity, and inclusion and the problem with the idea of rebranding it

40:00 – Vernā’s impactful DEI work at Netflix and how it helped her become a better leader

46:40 – The biggest challenges and opportunities for DEI initiatives today and in the future

53:43 – The uncompromisable aspect of Vernā’s brand and the Branding Room Only experience she brings to the world

Connect With Vernā Myers

Vernā Myers is a DEI pioneer, a highly sought-after DEI Keynote Speaker, and DEI Consultant. She is the Founder and President of The Vernā Myers Company and was the first executive head of inclusion at Netflix. Vernā is a Harvard-educated lawyer, best-selling author, TED speaker, podcast celebrity, and owner of her trademarked quote, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.®” 

With nearly three decades of experience, Vernā’s work as an inclusion strategist, cultural innovator, thought leader, and social commentator has guided myriad organizations across the world in dismantling barriers to inclusion and equity across race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, religion, and other differences. Her expertise and experience – personal and professional – have been instrumental in guiding workplaces toward embracing and integrating diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging into all facets of workplace operations. Information about her complete body of work can be found on www.vernamyers.com.

Mentioned In Building Brands with Integrity: A Conversation with DEI Pioneer Vernā Myers

The Vernā Myers Company

Sundays with Vernā

Vernā Myers’ TEDx Talk

Books by Vernā Myers

Boston Lawyers Group

“Building a Legacy: Insights on Leadership and Diversity in the Law with Robert J. Grey Jr.”

Subscribe to The Branding Room Only on YouTube

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to www.paulaedgar.com or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Hi, everybody. You know when you set an intention and it comes to fruition, what you’re about to experience is that happening. Verna Myers for me is like the Beyonce of the DEI world.

When I first started practicing in DEI, she was somebody who I looked up to and I continue to do so. This conversation is going to knock your socks off where she is telling you all the things and I can’t wait for you to hear it. Here it goes.

Hi, everybody. It’s Paula Edgar, your host of Branding Room Only, and I am so excited about my conversation today with someone who I respect and love from afar, but I’m going to love to hear now, Verna Myers.

Verna is a DEI pioneer. She’s a highly sought-after DEI keynote speaker and DEI consultant. She is the founder and president of The Vernā Myers Company and was the first executive head of inclusion at Netflix.

Aside from her TED Talk on bias, which you all are going to listen to because I’m putting it in the notes, she is well-known and globally cited for her trademark quote, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Y’all, I love it so much, I have it on the T-shirt. Verna, welcome to The Branding Room.

Verna Myers: Thank you, Paula. I’m so happy to be here. I’ve admired you from afar as well, so I’m glad we have closed the distance.

Paula Edgar: I love that. All right, so let’s get started. I ask everybody this question, which is what does a personal brand mean to you? How do you define it?

Verna Myers: For me, I think your brand is what people have become accustomed to expecting from you. It’s what they see and also what they think you will be delivering. The ability to do that consistently, I think is the real trick to creating a brand because I noticed that some people can show up one way on this day and differently on another day.

I don’t remember but it was years ago when I read this book about entrepreneurship and how McDonald’s was so completely successful and it was because every time people walked into a McDonald’s, they knew exactly what to expect.

The french fries taste the same, the setup is the same. While my business is a service business and it’s client to client, the brand kind of develops when clients tell other clients, “This is who this person is. This is what you can expect,” and for that to actually be delivered consistently.

Paula Edgar: I love that. What a robust, really complete brand definition. Thank you for that, putting that in the clip. Okay, speaking of brand, how would you define yourself in three words or short phrases?

Verna Myers: Now that’s a hard one, but I’m trying to figure these things out. I would describe myself as a person of integrity, so integral or however that is mentioned. I am also a person of excellence. It doesn’t mean I’m excellent at everything, but it does mean that I want to do the very best at all the things that I’m putting my heart, mind, and soul into. Then I would also say soulful.

Paula Edgar: Soulful, yes.

Verna Myers: Which is right there with spiritual, so I don’t know which is the best word. But when I say soulful, I mean all the work that I’m doing is ultimately informed by my soul, how I want to be in the world, and how I see others and want others to see me. Those are my three.

Paula Edgar: Those are great. You use two brand words that I use all the time in your definition of your brand, which are excellence, and always striving for it. That’s a part of good branding to have integrity and to commit to your values. That’s all a part of the brand proposition when you are doing it right and you’re striving for it to be done well.

All right, this is funny because if you say your quote, I’m going to be like, “This is perfect,” but what is your favorite quote?

Verna Myers: Since you’re talking about brand, you know I gotta say that diversity is being invited to the party but inclusion is being asked to dance. Who knew that that particular quote would resonate all over the world with so many different types of people?

It’s amazing. I also want to append now, now I want to append things to it because now we talk about equity so I was like, “And equity is making sure you have a diverse planning committee for the party,” but it is definitely a quote that has meant a lot to me because it was a discovery in the work.

As I was doing the work, I started to see the difference between having differences and actually employing and utilizing that difference so that it’s a true asset and so that people actually get to be involved, not like standing on the wall, like when you go to a very awkward middle school party or ninth grade and you’re just like, “Oh, I hope I get in, I hope I get in.”

That’s what I was seeing, Paula. I was seeing people who were officially at the party, at the organization, but they weren’t on the sexy, money-generating, high-profile stretch-type assignments. I thought, “Okay, now this is a dynamic that needs to be spoken to.” I love my quote.

Paula Edgar: I love it too.

Verna Myers: I feel seen.

Paula Edgar: Yes, it’s true. I think the reason why the quote resonates so much is because everybody wants to be included. Everybody wants to be invited. When they’re invited, they want to be included. What’s the Soul Train line with not anybody being on it?

Verna Myers: Seriously. People know this in every type of organization, they know it in politics. They know it, for example, in your own family life, when you go to someone’s house in your family but you never quite feel included. You don’t get to speak up. No one asks you for your opinion or the presumption is whatever it is already so you don’t really have the quality.

That’s the thing I was trying to get to, it was, “What is the quality of experience?” I say it’s a lot about being expected, being reflected, and also being respected. Those three really distinguish a person’s experience. Did you expect me? Did you expect me to be the brilliant one on this particular thing? Am I reflected in how you think about things as you’re creating programming and opportunities? And then respected, am I getting a chance to show how fabulous I am?

Paula Edgar: Right. Yes. Also, I love alliteration and I love rhyming. There you go with that. Speaking of that, what is your hype song? A hype song for me is when they’re going to get the full Verna Myers, what song is playing in your head? Or if you’re having a bad day, what song do you play to pick yourself up? They could be the same song or different ones.

Verna Myers: Well, you know I love music and music is a complete motivator for me, but I have to say that Jill Scott, Golden is by far my walk-on music. That’s my happy music. That’s the music that reminds me of who I am and how I was created and the gifts that I’ve been given. There is just something so me in that song.

Paula Edgar: It is a good song. It gives you that “I am” and you can expect it. I love that. Okay. I believe that branding starts from the values that you get when you’re growing up. My question for you is, where did you grow up and how did that shape you?

Verna Myers: I grew up in Baltimore City. I was just giving a commencement speech and reflecting on this idea of why I am where I am right now. I got the gift of two very sturdy, kind, logical, hard-working, responsible, principled parents.

They insisted that we reflect integrity, honesty, respect that we have principles. Also, it was working class, they didn’t have to tell me that hard work is necessary, although they did. I just watched them and I watched them sacrifice and I watched them put us first but also require a lot from us.

I think that shaped me. It helped me be a really hard worker to really believe in principles. Also, my dad was more of the one who was about discipline and loyalty and those kinds of values. My mom was love conquers all. She really gave me a lot to think about faith lies. I grew up in a believing household, which means that all things are possible.

I think that those have shaped my understanding of the world and also Martin Luther King was assassinated when I was just turning eight years old, and I was in one of the cities that burned as a response to what had happened, the [inaudible] that had visited us and not just Black people, but the whole country.

As a little girl, I just remember thinking, “I have to be what he died for. I want to be an embodiment of his dream.”

Paula Edgar: Wow. As a little kid.

Verna Myers: As a little kid, because when you’re in elementary school, if you’re my age, you’re listening to his speeches and everything, and it never occurs to you as a little kid that someone will be murdered that you know or you feel like you know and you’re connected with. That really had a huge, huge effect on how I saw myself in the world.

Paula Edgar: Wow. Tell me about your educational journey.

Verna Myers: Yeah. This is so interesting and part of the whole MLK thing, which is when the city started burning down and everybody was showing their righteous anger, folks got a little afraid, and then maybe a little awakened, and they started allowing Black kids like me from working-class backgrounds.

We got pools, we got to go to enrichment classes after school. We got to go to any school we wanted to in the entire city. I took three buses to go to a middle school that had a really great reputation. That took me to a magnet school or like an exam school they called it.

Then that took me to Barnard, which then took me to Harvard, which then took me to very prestigious law firms in Boston. Then ultimately I made a different decision as to whether I was going to practice law, but that’s how it all came together.

Paula Edgar: Yes. I remember we had a [inaudible] connection and I was like, “Oh, that’s right, you were in Boston.” I went to school in Massachusetts and went to boarding school.

Verna Myers: Which school did you go to?

Paula Edgar: Deerfield Academy.

Verna Myers: Oh, sure, I know Deerfield, yes.

Paula Edgar: Yes, and then I went to UMass Amherst, go UMass for a little bit. That New England connection is an interesting one, especially when you think about the work that we do.

Verna Myers: Yeah.

Paula Edgar: More about your career path, you decide you’re going to go to law school, then you go to firms, and then you say, “Psych.”

Verna Myers: A couple of things occurred. One is I found myself as they say “with child” sooner than I thought. I was married and everything but I really had planned to go much longer in my career, then all of a sudden I was pregnant and I thought, “Do I like this job enough to neglect my childhood?”

Because it’s one of those super demanding jobs to be in one of these prestigious law firms. I thought, first of all, there are plenty of people to do this job, making money for wealthy people is a job. I’m not against anybody who makes that choice. I felt like there was a better use of me.

I also want to see my kids and people are like, “Oh, kids are resilient.” I get it. I do. But I actually want it to be a mother. I didn’t want to be like a person who says, “Bye,” then comes home and now you go, “Hi.” I do like a bath and a book, then that’s that.

I said to my ex-husband at one point then he was a physician and I was like, “We have a dumb life. We only have two sets of clothes. We have our work clothes and we have night clothes.”

I feel like, “What do you want? It’s way too hard to have such a limited existence.” I started questioning whether I wanted to practice law. Before I left the law altogether, I had made really great relationships with some Black partners, like Black men who had become partners in the larger law firms, but then had gone off to create their own law firm.

I was sort of their daughter. I was the one that they were sewing into as a mentee. When I decided to leave the all-white, and by the way, I was the first and only Black attorney they’d ever had, and no other people of color were serving as lawyers so I was breaking the color line, which I thought was very bizarre, but nevertheless, the firm was great and everything, it just wasn’t the best use of me. I thought, “Maybe I’ll go work with these brilliant men.”

That was also awesome. I learned a great deal. They developed me a great deal as well. And I still thought, “No, there’s yet a better use of me.” That’s how I became the executive director of an association called the Boston Law Firm Group. It’s now called the Boston Lawyers Group or something like that, which was a consortium of law firms that it had dawned on them that there was a huge paucity of Black lawyers in the Boston Law Firm and they were working on that in independent ways, but then they came together as a consortium and they ultimately needed someone to run it.

That was my first step outside of practicing law to actually practicing DEI within the legal world.

Paula Edgar: Wow. I was just sitting here thinking, “You think that you know somebody,” this is why I love having this podcast because I can tell you about yourself quickly. I could be like, “Hey, this is the thing.” But to hear you say and add the nuances in, it’s so powerful and I love finding these areas of connection.

I started off, after I decided not to practice law anymore, working at a nonprofit that helped minority law students and brought together all law firms and law students. That was a catalyst for me doing DEI as well.

There’s this discomfort that you feel when you’re not in the space you’re supposed to be. My mother used to say, “It’s like the Lord is saying that’s not for you, it’ll make you uncomfortable.” I did not rest in that until I had my own business.

Verna Myers: We cannot say that enough. I am so grateful for your podcast because sometimes we stay too long. When I told people that I was leaving the practice of law, there was just this whole like, “You’re going to go down,” or, “You’re leaving your training,” or, “How can you afford this?” There’s a lot of naysaying, but the naysaying is really based on other people’s fear and their reasoning for not leaving something they no longer want to do, but don’t feel the courage to do so.

I will say, Paula, that I feel like my success is because early on, I learned to walk away. When I learned to walk away, I didn’t always know where the next step was. I knew the direction. I understood there was a calling. I did not know exactly what was next.

But the truth is, if you want to go, you have to leave. I know it sounds basic, but you can’t go and stay. You can’t do that. Often the space won’t open until you step. You get really religious about it, it’s faith. I’ve done that several times in my career.

What I’ve learned by doing it more than once is the ground will make its way, this is the same thing you did 15 years ago or 10 years ago, it’s not different, it just feels different because sometimes it feels like the stakes are higher.

I was a little poor girl coming out of Baltimore and I graduated with so much debt that when I decided to leave the large law firm, a lot of people thought that was not wise, but I thought to myself, “I can’t be stuck so early. I’m just on GP. Just on general practice. I cannot be locked into one way of living. Yesterday I made zero dollars. Okay, so I’m making a lot of money in two years but…”

Paula Edgar: Yes to all of that. In order to go, you got to leave.

Verna Myers: It’s so basic.

Paula Edgar: You can’t stay and go at the same time. Yes. Like I tell all my mentees, anybody who will listen, you can bet on anybody, but on yourself.

Verna Myers: Yes.

Paula Edgar: There’s that. You are a pioneer. I know this for sure because no one says it in your bio, but two, because I know, you didn’t know that the work that you have done. Tell me about some pivotal points in becoming a DEI pioneer.

Verna Myers: Yeah. It’s interesting because coming back from Netflix, which is a pivotal point, it’s my last pivot, quite frankly—who knows what my most recent pivot—which is that you go from having your 25-plus years, your client is so convincing. I had said no to a lot of clients, but this client, Netflix, there was something about it.

I said, “You know what? You’ve been giving advice for 20-some years, it might be time for you to see how well your advice actually works inside a company that is about excellence and has the appetite for DEI.”

That was clearly a pivot to go in and then another pivot to come out, which is to say, these five years have been awesome. I’m definitely a better consultant as a result of it because I understand the obstacles better than I did before I went in.

But I’m getting older and if this is my last act, I want to do it on my terms, in my company. Because we never let the company go. That was also the grace of Netflix to be like, “Yeah, you can keep it. You don’t have to let it go.” For me, that was like a real game changer. I was like, “Okay.”

Coming back to my own business, now I have the moniker of a pioneer. People were saying it before, when I went to Netflix, people were like, “Whoa, Netflix just scored, you know?” I thought, “Wow, that’s really interesting to hear.”

It just warmed my heart. Or a couple of people would be like, “I hope they know what they got.” That is when you start to know your brand. You’re like, “Whoa, check this out.” But now I’m like the pioneer and some people would be like, “Don’t call me grandma.”

But I really love that piece of my brand because it is a recognition of how much I have worked in this area and the expertise I bring, not the perfection I bring, but the expertise and the experience I bring. Those two pivots were important.

The other pivot, the first pivot where I left the law firm, was really important. I ultimately joined this consortium. But then I pivoted after five years again from that consortium. The attorney general of Massachusetts asked me, “Can you come in and do a DEI thing in my office? I’ve got all of these lawyers. We represent all of the people in the Commonwealth. We need to do better.”

This was another opportunity for me to say, “Does my advice really work?” That was an interesting pivot because I also wanted to understand the political world. I always kind of have a five-year plan. I’m not one of those people who are straight on and target, I have a meandering kind of way, but I always have a general idea of what might be the next thing to take a look at.

In that case, I was like, ”Politics is something that I’m thinking about and the attorney general was running for governor. I want to see if what I’ve been sharing with all of the members of this consortium, whether it works well in another organization.” That was a pivot.

But I think the biggest pivot was when the attorney general lost the governor election. It was obviously another attorney general. I thought to myself, “Yeah, I don’t think I need any more bosses. This has all been lovely. I’ve learned a lot, but I think I’m going to try to build something that will serve a larger group of people. Not just one client, but a larger group of clients and individuals who are seeking opportunities among those clients.”

I already knew so many law firms because I had been in the consortium. I knew a lot of people within the Commonwealth and then ultimately in New York and then ultimately in LA and then and then.

Paula Edgar: Heard about Boston. I get it. I also am sitting here, like I’m smiling because that five-year piece, there’s a lot of people who have that rhythm. To your point, it’s not necessarily like, “Oh, it’s that. I know exactly what’s going to happen in that.”

But there’s just something that says, “It’s time for us to do something else here.” I’m in year 12 of my business full-time. I did it as my part part-time gig and then did it full-time. At 10 I was like, “I gotta figure out what I’m going to do.” Meanwhile, I was like, “I know I’m not going to do anything that’s not inside the business,” but I was like, “I need to do something that ups it, that makes it different and more exciting for me.”

Because what I love about being a speaker and consultant is that I get to decide and I get to innovate, people could come along and thankfully they do but I can’t be bored, so I don’t want to be boring. We gotta figure out stuff to do, which is why this podcast was birthed because I was like, “Hey, I can do this.”

Verna Myers: I love that, we sound so similar. The nice thing about your own business is that you’re always looking to improve your own business. I went from having up to maybe 20-some consultants and independents to work with me.

I built a number of careers around and brought in people who I thought would be good to do the work because ultimately, I had way too much work to do by myself and then I had two other people who mostly acted as partners but weren’t quite partners.

Then I was like, “We still need more people.” But then there was a point where I decided I was not going to do the large group anymore. I think I grew and trunked my business maybe three times and then went to a solo practice a couple of years before I went to Netflix.

By that time, I was keynoting, I was high-level advising and I realized I missed some of the nitty gritty on the groundwork and a lot of the workshopping and a lot of the assessments, et cetera. I missed that and I was worried about it because I knew that I wanted to continue to touch the entire organization.

But what I decided was the best use of me again, was either in the keynotes, where we have very large audiences, or leadership training and leadership advising, and then we went to producing the courses. The courses would allow me to actually be in front of people and talk to people, just not being there.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Literally just laid out what I wanted to do.

Verna Myers: The books too, the books make a difference. People come up to you and they’re like, “I read this book,” or, “I saw your TED Talk,” or whatever. You realize that you don’t have to be in person to have an impact and that frees you up.

Paula Edgar: Yes. I’m just going to take that snippet and put it on my vision board. Anyway, love, love, love that. I want to go back to the part about you being a pioneer in this space and then think about the fact that I think of the word as somebody who obviously started doing the thing and is a visionary.

But I love that it’s part of your brand proposition now, primarily because during COVID and after George Floyd, so many people were DEI consultants. It was like, “Okay, well, you’re new to this game, but you’ve been here.”

Actually, it differentiates you from folks who are just saying that they are DEI speakers because you’ve been there, done that, and you’re still doing it and doing even better. I wanted to pull that the longevity and the continued excellence are a part of the pioneer piece that a lot of people can’t say.

Verna Myers: Yes. I will say that pioneer and perspective go hand in hand. Again, when I came back to sit back in this seat, I had no idea we were going to be in this world of DEI backlash. I was like, “What?” All of this misinformation and the ways in which some organizations, and I want to say some and I don’t want to overstate it, there are plenty of companies and organizations that are going straight ahead and continuing with their work on DEI and they are not cowards at all.

Then there are some that are worried and that are pulling back. Then as you said, there are people within our industry who know what they’re doing and are doing a good job of pulling through this period for other folks who were new and don’t have the perspective and may not have the skills and may not have done their own personal work and they may have set up things in a way that was not strategic.

So, as a pioneer, I am also bringing the perspective, that is, okay, y’all settle down, dig in, be strategic, excel in your work, speak your vision, keep your courage, and roll forward. And this is not necessarily new. Retrenchment is something that happens a lot. We have seen it throughout the decades.

This does seem to be a very interesting brand of it. I’m not going to lie, I sometimes too am like, “Okay, this is unbelievable that we’re going to equate, we’re going to say that DEI is anti-submitting. What? How is DEI anti-submitting?”

As a pioneer, I’m always going, “Let me lean in.” I have learned that when you have resistance, there are some people who are very intentionally trying to defeat what you’re doing. But then there are a lot of people who are concerned or fearful and misinformed. Those are the folks who you need to spend your time with.

Paula Edgar: Fear and misinformation are literally the brand of our society right now. People are taking advantage of it. The challenge is that we are moving into this space where folks cannot dialogue about difference respectfully and educationally, and to hear without it being name-calling and finger-pointing to the point about having a book about what did that mean, what did you say and why did you say these things?

I attribute a lot of this to the post-pandemic. I think that we’re all in trauma and don’t want to feel discomfort. So you have places like Florida that are literally like in our laws, we don’t want to feel discomfort, but we still have to navigate what has happened and who we all are.

Robert Grey was on the podcast the other day and he said, “That trade had left the station, we’re diverse. We can’t go back. We can’t pull it back. As much as you try, it’s going to continue to pop up.”

That resistance is what, to your point, we’ve seen over and over and over again, but we’ve also seen bullying. We see bullies all the time. I’m not scared. I just am frustrated that people are feeling that some of this should be acquiesced to.

Verna Myers: I’ve been hearing this whole idea about rebranding and I’m like, “I think the move is not the rebrand, it’s the reeducation.” My problem with the rebrand is that I worry that people are not going to do the work.

If you are rebranding and planning to do the work, the work that is hard, the work that hasn’t been done, keep doing what you need to do. I’m not against that, but if rebranding is just covering and minimizing the way in which you are taking on the work that must be done, then I don’t think that’s where we should be thinking. I don’t think we should use our energy that way. I think we should be using our energy to be imaginative and creative.

There’s still an enormous amount of work to do in DEI. There’s an enormous amount of vocabulary and strategy that we can develop to address inequity. We just got to equity. It’s a complicated, complex idea that most folks have a hard time understanding.

Now, I would say some of the younger generation get it. They understand structural, they understand it’s not just personal, they understand group, and they understand a lot of what needs to be thought through.

However, there are many people who have been ill-informed and uneducated and I would say they believe in neutrality, they don’t really understand that to be neutral is to be complicit because bias is embedded in all of the structures.

Unless you’re doing the work to get out the bias, you are passively biased. A lot of people don’t want to hear that.

Paula Edgar: They sure do not. I think about the rebranding of DEI in two ways. When you wear camouflage, you wear it so that you can sneak by and do the same thing you need to do or you wear a camouflage so you’re not seen and not even regarded at all.

To your point, if it just is to say, “Okay, we’re never going to use the word diversity anymore, we’re just going to say whatever the insert word here, fine, if you’re still doing the work.

It still doesn’t take away the definition, but hiding and then more, I think I’m so frustrated about this is the people who are now very vocal, being like, “This is a waste of my time.” “We should be focused on business.” I’m like, “Who does business? Until the robots take over, it’s people who do business.”

Verna Myers: Yesterday I was talking to someone who was talking to me about the aging of the generations, what is happening in the workplace, and how important it is, benefits-wise for organizations to actually think about who is among them in their employees.

He also said, “Your client base, your customer base, are you really not going to examine the different groups of people that you want to attract and that you want to have used your product or feel reflected in the work that you are doing?”

I mean, seriously? If you want to future-proof your business, if you want to be a client of choice, if you want to be an organization where you are serving excellently all of the people who are your customers or your clients, this is work you must do.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. It’s not separate work. It’s work that needs to embed itself into every single thing. When people say to me, “Well, Paula, we’re experiencing a lot of diversity fatigue here,” I go, “Are you experiencing accounting fatigue too? Because this is a core business function.”

When you do not do accounting, are you just like, “Forget it, we’re not [inaudible] any more checks”? No, you push through, even when things are hard. Then life is not easy, but we have a little life with other people. I know we just jumped into four of my questions at one time, which is nice.

I want to go back to something. When you were at Netflix, what were a few of the highlights for you in that role?

Verna Myers: Well, there were just so many highlights. Partly I interviewed like a hundred VPs when I started to get a very clear understanding of where they were coming from. I came back to my friend, I brought her from my company to Netflix. We worked a lot together. She’s also a lawyer.

I was like, “Where are the resistors?” I just talked to 100 people. Either they’re just lying to be straight out, or we have found ourselves in a new world. Part of it was just the enthusiasm for inclusion.

They had already done a great job on representation but they were at that stage where they had to realize that this was actually a profession and it was a discipline and they needed a person who could come in because they had that initial really positive idea we are all responsible for inclusion and many of us don’t know what we’re doing. So we had to hire a team.

Also, what was also glorious was that I was given every resource I needed so that I could build a team all over the world without resistance. Another highlight, of course, was seeing what we started producing, and I’m not saying that my team was responsible for it all but what we did do was to make sure to teach all leaders, what inclusion is and how to have an inclusion lens.

The real highlights are when you just happen upon some fabulous thing that’s being shown or we sign another really fabulous talent, or somebody in the tech world has figured out how to do something where people who can’t hear can still see the subtitles or people who can’t see and they can listen.

You’re just like, “Our team had nothing to do with that.” You start to see people pick up the message, run with it, and integrate it into their day-to-day practice. That was a highlight. Learning more about the world and DEI all over the world was very powerful because what you recognize is the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is relevant everywhere, but it shows up differently and it looks different.

Also my own growth. Paula, I’m better. I’m definitely better. I’m a better leader. I understand DEI across cultures much more than I did before. I have been humbled because DEI is something that I had to reach an entire nother level because Netflix is about excellence and innovation.

I remember one day waking up early on after being in LA. I immediately left and went to LA to take on this job. I remember one day waking up and saying to myself, in temporary housing, and saying to myself, “[inaudible].”

This job is demanding so much for me. I was really on a nice, smooth trajectory. I said to myself, “How did I get here?” Then this voice came over me and said, “Yeah, you asked to be used as your highest potential.” I was like, “Oh, be careful what you ask for.” Then I got up and took a shower and went to work.

But it was an opportunity that was about really increasing my competency. I had never actually run a big team. I had never actually been an executive within a very prominent company that was all about innovation, feedback, and excellence. It was a good move for me in many ways.

Paula Edgar: I love hearing the reflection about how it shifted you because I remember when it was announced that you were going to be in this room, people were like “Verna. Verna. Netflix. Netflix. Verna. Verna.” And branding is when you align yourself with another great brand, both of you did that, Netflix did that with you and you did that with Netflix, it was like, “Boom. I’m out of this,” and I’m telling you every single time I watch something, I was like, “I’m sure Verna had something to do with that.” I don’t care if it’s true or not, that’s what I was saying.

Verna Myers: I love that.

Paula Edgar: All of those things. I think of when you come in our catalyst, it’s like everybody has on shades that you gave them. The lens is different. Even if you are the person who wrote the script, they heard you talk about the importance of considering, those things seep into the ethos and that’s where the impact is. I think it’s a clear impact. On behalf of all the fans, we’re proud of you. There’s that.

Verna Myers: Thank you. The word “impact” gets used a lot at Netflix. When I was leaving a number of people through tears, a lot of people were like, “I can’t believe you’re leaving.” I was like, “You know I got to go do my next thing y’all. I’m old, okay, gotta go.”

I am so grateful for this gift of people coming to you and telling you the impact that you had on them personally, on how they do their work, and on how the company has changed.

Paula Edgar: I love that.

Verna Myers: There’s really not a lot better than that.

Paula Edgar: Okay. Let’s talk about the biggest challenges and biggest opportunities for the DEI initiatives today. Start with challenges because there are so many.

Verna Myers: Yeah. I think I spoke to it a little earlier, but imagination. We can’t do things the way we’ve been doing them, I mean, not all the things, obviously there are some things we must stick to.

The history of DEI is that it has continued to evolve. That’s the excitement about DEI. I think it’s one of the most generative types of work we have ever done in this country and in these workplaces, in the workplace in particular.

You gotta remember, this started off in the ’60s. Maybe you can go back a little bit to the ’50s, civil rights, we passed the civil rights laws ’64, ’65. We then start doing anti-discrimination work. We go to affirmative action. We actually then start realizing the law itself and compliance is not going to be enough.

We need to educate. We need to help people understand their role. We went from diversity, like what’s the demographics to inclusion. We went from inclusion to understanding it’s great to have these people in and it’s great to have one or two of the folks in the executive ranks, but the whole group is not being brought along because of these structural impediments. Now we need to pay attention to equity.

We started to recognize that belonging and psychological safety are all parts of this work. We really started to pay attention to allyship. This is an ever-evolving piece of work. And we started mostly with Black men because yeah, it was men. Then white women started being the major beneficiaries of the work.

We were like, “Okay, we actually also need to bring in women of color. We need to talk about Latin folks, Latinos, Latinas. We need to actually start talking about people who are impoverished. We need to talk about people who are first-generation.

I think the best thing about DEI—I know people were worried about it, and I know people continue to worry about it—if we expand, are we not going to actually pay attention to where some of the most difficult problems seem to congregate around race and class, et cetera? That doesn’t have to be the case.

What we have to recognize is that there is no hierarchy of oppression. We really do need to find a way—and I’m calling it the beloved community. In that beloved community, which I took from my hero, Martin Luther King, are people of all backgrounds—we must find a way for people who care about creating a loving, caring, respectful, safe environment for all people, how we find each other and use that strength, use that unity to continue to evolve.

That means we have to keep listening. People are saying, “I’m not feeling it.” We do need to not do the knee-jerk thing. The knee-jerk thing is so easy to do, believe me, I have to pull my knee under the desk a lot and remind me, “Verna, you must listen.” You must listen, you must embrace, you must understand, because we have got to find another way, the polarization, hatred, the depression, the burnout. No, so imagination is huge, courage is huge. Real curiosity is another area that I think we need to work on and compassion.

Paula Edgar: Oh, compassion. Remember that we’re all literally in this together, whether or not we want to be, we are.

Verna Myers: All of those need to be integrated into how we operate individually, but also how we structure policies and practices and systems, and we can’t be afraid to look at things that maybe were neutral on their face, but with further examination are actually disadvantaging groups of people over and over again, and have for a while. Therefore, we must change them.

That’s where I think the future is. The future is trying to articulate that DEI is not for some, it is for all. I have actually said, for those of us who are like storming the gates, it’s not that we’re better than anybody, it’s that we want better for everybody. That is a distinction.

Paula Edgar: Verna, those are two quotes that you have to put on t-shirts immediately.

Verna Myers: That’s what I’m doing. Sometimes I have to remind my people, I need to remind them, “Y’all, we’re not better. We’re not better. We certainly aren’t better when we think we are better.”

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Ego gets in the way of [inaudible].

Verna Myers: Yes, that judgment. I know it’s hard. I wrestle with it myself. But you have to be willing. I’m writing a new book about it. You have to be willing to cease the judgment. If you’re not willing to cease the judgment, it ain’t going to go anywhere because it’s a stubborn force in us.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to my therapy, y’all. Our ego gets in the way of so many other wonderful things. When the ego comes together collectively, it looks like privilege often, and it gets in the way of a lot of things and then we get stuck and then we get angry and it’s just this circle.

I’m glad to hear that you’re writing another book and you definitely have to come back when it comes out so that we can talk about it.

Verna Myers: Yes, I’m happy to.

Paula Edgar: I knew this was going to go quickly and I knew I wasn’t going to get to all the questions I wanted to ask you. No matter what, you have an open invitation to be in The Branding Room, whenever you want to talk about anything, you just let me know, and happy to do that.

But before we end, I have to ask you the two questions that I ask everybody on the podcast, which is, one is your stand by your brand, what is an aspect of your brand that you will never compromise on?

Verna Myers: I tell it like it is. That’s how I know whether you’re my client. One of the things that I did was to express, after I talked to a bunch of people, the CEO at Netflix asked me what do I think, I sat down with the board and I told them.

I had things to tell them that they probably didn’t know and they didn’t want to necessarily hear, but they were like, “Okay.” The next thing I knew, I was not a consultant anymore. I was an employee and I was running this practice.

I need to tell you what I think. That’s why you are hiring me. Now, I don’t need to beat you up. I don’t need to shame you. I don’t need to blame you. But I need to tell you what I think is going to help you. That I will always stand by.

Paula Edgar: Yes, the consultant credo. You hired me, listen. My final question for you is Branding Room Only is a play on the term standing room only because I’m clever. So, I ask you, what is the aspect about you, what is the experience that people would want to be in a room, standing room only to be with and experience about you?

Verna Myers: I’m going to say this because people have said this to me, inspiration. In these times, people need to believe they don’t need to be removed from reality, they need to understand their role in creating the reality that they say they want.

I thought about the word “inspire” comes from spirit, the same base of spirit or enthusiasm, which comes really from the whole idea of feel and God. My joy and my way of being is to impart as much, to breathe as much into you as possible so that you understand what you’re capable of.

We sometimes forget, Paula, that we have so many limits that we’ve imposed or have been imposed upon us, and then we start to believe it. My work in a standing-room audience is to mirror the miracle that we each are.

Paula Edgar: Wow. That was like a drop-the-mic toss-it-off-of-my-desk moment. Verna, I knew this was going to be a fantastic conversation. I truly, truly appreciate your wisdom and your humor, your innovation, and your excellence.

I’m telling you, everybody, go tell everyone to listen to this podcast, download it, and like it on your favorite platform. Most importantly, send it to that leader who you know needs to hear it, and hire Verna.

Verna, thank you for being in The Branding Room. You’re welcome back anytime. Talk to you later, bye everyone.

Verna Myers: Thank you.

Paula Edgar: Wasn’t that fantastic? I am so grateful to Verna Myers for spending the time to chat with me about her journey and the next steps in her DEI journey and how much she learned at Netflix and just the inspiration that we all needed to be able to navigate through the challenging times that we’re in right now.

I hope that you run and tell everybody to listen to this podcast and remember that diversity is like being invited to the party and inclusion is like being asked to dance. Trademark. I’ll see you all soon and see you in the Branding Room next time.